Where to see the Big 5 of India

Ever heard about the Big 5 of India? These are the most visited and subsequently the most protected animals of Indian wildlife.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Mahatma Ghandi

They consist of the Bengal tiger, Asiatic lion, Indian leopard, Great One-horned Rhino and the Indian Elephant.

India nature

India is known for its tigers, but there’s a whole world of exotic wildlife you’ll see on interactive and captivating tours throughout the country. We’ve found Indian wildlife safaris that will convince you a trip to see the Big 5 of India is the holiday you never knew your soul needed.

Intrigued? Read Ahead or jump to your favorite headline.

About India

Where to see the Big 5 of India

#1 Tiger

#2 Asiatic Lion

#3 Indian leopard

#4 Great One Horned Rhino

#5 Indian Elephant

Summary

About India

India offers a myriad of globally renowned destinations that see millions of tourists yearly. Its culturally dynamic backdrop of tourism attracts the attention of invested historians and travelers alike.

Wildlife, including the Big five of India, can be experienced beyond the setting of city intensity where natural landscapes set sights for sore eyes in fabled jungles and extensive and immersive biodiversity.

From Bandhavgarh National park, home to the largest percentage of Bengal Tigers to Brahmaputra Basin, a trans-boundary river which lines the border of China, Bangladesh and India.

Ecotourism is of integral importance to continue conservation of many indigenous species including the Big 5 of India, and especially the Bengal Tiger population, which after a century of decline, now rises in population. 

There exist an impressive number of 166 National Parks in India, 99 of which are dedicated wildlife reserves. There are also 515 wildlife/animal sanctuaries throughout the country, many of which overseen by or collaborating with the Tiger project.

Where to see the Big 5 of India

Above are the Northern states of India, home to many of the National parks and reserves which feature encounters with the Big 5 of India.

We have found some of the most exhilarating locations, guaranteed to find you encountering one of the big five of India. All tours have been carefully selected with ecotourism values and ethical treatment of animal always considered.

#1 Bengal Tiger

The Bengal Tiger, more than an animal of undeniable strength, agility and power, holds deeply rooted generational importance to the Indian culture.

Tiger big 5 of india

Name :Panthera tigris tigris
Family : Felidae
Total Population : 2,226
Kingdom : Indian Subcontinent
Conservation Status : Endangered

Valued as a symbolic icon of natural heritage. The tiger, one of the largest land mammals in the world, has always intrigued and amazed those lucky enough to encounter their species in wildlife. The body length can vary between 2,5 and almost 3 meters in length.

This, in addition with their coat colouring is dependent on location and climate.Tigers are commonly solitary animals but may encompass territories of up to 7 females. Their diet is Carnivorous; known to hunt prey such as deer and even other predators.

Due to India holding the largest population of the sacred tiger, they have been at highest priority for the World Wildlife Fund ( WWF) India. In addition, Project Tiger was initiated in 1973 as a very important conservation program.

It has overseen the formation of more than 25 reserves for tiger monitoring and conservation and has been credited for the increase in tiger population by almost three times the initial population. 

Where to see them

  1. Bandhavgarh National Park
  2. Ranthambore National Park
  3. Kanha National Park
  4. Jim Corbett National Park
  5. Satpura National Park: 

Tour Operators

Tiger Safari India

Natural Habitat Adventures

Wild Trails

Jim Corbitt National Park tours

Nature Safari India

Tiger Conservation

Endangered: poaching is the biggest threat to the tiger population, the 2018 wild tiger census is expected to be more than 3,000—a number that has doubled since 2006.

WWF-India’s work for tiger conservation aims to maintain and restore tiger habitats and critical corridors while protecting the tiger and its prey base in the tiger landscapes within India, eventually leading to an increase and stabilization in tiger populations across the country.

What You Can Do?

Here are some practical steps you can take to help save the tiger:

Raising awareness where possible on active/ already existing tiger discussion forums and exchanging or comparing resources to most efficiently help in conservation efforts to protect the tiger and enforce strict regulations around tourist encounters with tigers. 

This leads to the next point; Being a responsible tourist- leaving nothing but footprints. The wilderness habitat of the tiger should not be disturbed or polluted.

Pressuring change politically is also an impact stand. Choosing politicians that may represent positive change in environmental conservation or writing letters of urgency to ministers/ executive decision makers who could directly make a difference.

Help prevent wildlife trade:

Refuse/ condemn the sale and use of animal products that have been poached or trafficked and when informed, contact TRAFFIC, an international organization that works to aid the abolition of animal wildlife trade and poaching. 

Reducing pressure on natural resources: Being conscious of the impact our lifestyles may have on the natural resources in our environments and will help protect the Big 5 of India. Donate to WWF India and the Tiger project. 

Why is this Important? 

This is vital because Indian wilderness eco systems are dependent on the existence of the tiger, without which food chains would collapse and the natural order of the ecosystem would be irreparably disturbed. An extinction of an apex/ top predator is indicative of a vulnerable ecosystem which could not exist further.

If you are interested in other big cats, take a look at our Big Cats and Where to See Them article.

#2 Asiatic Lion

The Asiatic lion is distinguishable as smaller than the African lion at weights of up to 190 kg and lengths of close to 3 meters.

The big 5 of India : Asiatic lion in Gir National park
Name:  Panthera leo persica
Family: Felidae
Total Population: 523
Kingdom: India
Conservation Status: Endangered

Fur color ranges between various tones. Male lions manes’ do not cover their ears which are always visible. The Asiatic lion can be found within a limited range of the Gir national park and Indian state of Gujarat. Before this, historically the Asiatic lion inhabited much of western Asia and even the middle east until migrating up to northern India.

Once known as the Indian lion and even Persian lion based on historical location. Although the Lion has an endangered conservation status, the population is on a steady increase from 2010.

The Gir forest was declared an Asiatic Lion sanctuary from 1965, after which the surrounding area was declared protected reserve and out of reach to human activity or urban infringement and development. 

Where to see them

  1. Gir national Park

Tour Operators: 

Travel n Tours India

Gir National Park Tours

Natural World Safaris

Nature Safari India

Conservation Issues

Poaching and habitat fragmentation are among the leading challenges and threats facing the Asiatic lion. In addition, major roadways pass through the designated Gir Protected area, leading to temples which attract large numbers of pilgrims.

This human presence impacts greatly on the natural environment and migration of the lions. Lesson common threats have also included lions falling into unguarded well systems and unfortunate effects of genetic inbreeding due to single populations dominating one space.

WWF-India’s Initiatives

WWF India’s initiatives to protect Asiatic lions have supported barricading of 180 wells through Gujarat Forest Department. To strengthen the efforts of Gir PA towards managing conflict and poaching, WWF provided need-based support.

WWFIndia conducted study to assess habitat change over a period of 20 years and on the basis of the results, have made relevant adaptations to conservation in order to most efficiently aid the regrowth of lion population.

#3 Indian Leopard

The leopard is an animal that varies greatly in appearance based on location in the world.

The big 5 of India : indian leopard
Name: Panthera pardus fusca
Family: Felidae
Total Population: 14,000
Kingdom: Indian Subcontinent
Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Averaging between to 90 kg in weight and 2,5 meters in length, their stealth and stamina is undisputable. However leopards may grow beyond this in exception.

Their colouring is relatively constant with yellow upper body and white underbelly fur, decorated in dark spots over much of the body but it is the pattern of spots that remarks distinguish between leopards worldwide and even holds significance behind their names and characteristics. 

Where to see them

  1. Jawai Bandh Leopard Reserve Rajasthan
  2. Jhalana Leopard Safari Park
  3. Kumbhalgarh Wildlife Sanctuary
  4. Satpura National Park
  5. Bandipur National Park

Tour Operators

Natural World Safaris: Bandhavgarh National Park 

Thour Nature Resorts

Gurukripa Travels: Barnawapara Wildlife Sanctuary Tour

Nature Safari India

Conservation

The well known International Union for Conservation of Nature ( IUCN) officially classified the Indian leopard as vulnerable with population totals having rapidly plummeted.

This however, is directly related to the location of the leopard. The estimated 9800 Indian leopards is on the rise whereas a stark comparison grew for Sri Lankan and Persian leopards, where many subspecies have also declined to a critical level of conservation concern.

#4 Great One- Horned Rhino

The Indian rhino has a single horn, which is present in both sexes. It is the largest of all the Asian rhinos and fourth largest land mammal on earth.

Great one horned rhino of indian big 5
Name: Rhinoceros unicornis
Family: Rhinocerotidae
Total Population: 3,555
Kingdom: Indian Subcontinent
Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Considered to be the most amphibious of all the rhino species, the Indian rhino is an excellent swimmer. It can run at speeds of up to 55km/hr for short periods of time.

Though it has an excellent sense of hearing and smell, its eyesight is relatively poor. While a fully grown male rhino weighs around 1800 to 2800 kg, a female weighs around 1,600kg. The animal is solitary as a rule, though several may occupy the same patch of forest or water hole.

Breeding takes place at all times of the year. The period of gestation is about 16 months and the young at birth in length is around 105 cm and weighs up to 60kg.

The most common habitat of an Indian rhinoceros is along alluvial flood plains and areas containing tall grasslands along the foothills of the Himalayas.

Formerly, extensively distributed in the Gangetic plains, today the species is restricted to small habitats in Indo-Nepal terrain and northern West Bengal and Assam.

Where to see them

  1. Kaziranga National park Asam
  2. Jaldapara National Park, West Bengal
  3. Orang National Park, Assam
  4. Gorumara National Park, West Bengal 
  5. Manas National Park, Assam

Tour Operators

India Wildlife Resorts

Kaziranga Adventures

Bellingham safaris

Nature Safari India

Conservation

Vulnerable: 

IRV 2020 programme: WWF-India has been working on rhino conservation for over four decades. As part of this work, in partnership with the Assam Forest Department and other organizations, WWF-India initiated the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 (IRV 2020) in 2005.

The vision of the program is to increase the total rhino population in Assam to about 3,000 by the year 2020 and just as significantly ensure that these rhinos are distributed over at least seven protected areas to provide long-term viability of an Assam population of the species.

#5 Indian Elephant

In India, the Asian elephant was once widely distributed throughout the country, including in states like Punjab and Gujarat.

Elephant and calf in India: protected
Name: Elephas maximus indicus
Family: Elephantidae
Total Population: 31,368
Kingdom: Mainland Asia
Conservation Status: Endangered

Currently, they are found in four fragmented populations, in south, north, central and north-east India. Extreme habitat generalists, their habitat ranges from wet tropical evergreen forests to semi-arid thorn and scrub forests. However, highest densities of the elephant population are found in tropical deciduous forests.

Elephants are ‘mega-herbivores’ that require vast tracts of forests, rich in food and water to survive.

Historically, Indians have through their long association with captive elephants that go back 4,000-5,000 years developed strong cultural and religious links with these gentle giants, a motivator for increased conservation efforts and stricter tourism protocol to comply with, and to be ethical in practice.

Because of the diverse range of habitats home to elephants, they help protect the biodiversity within their range. Even their large dietary requirements enable elephants to have a significant impact on the trees and other vegetation, which results in a modification of their habitat, and therefore their conservation could also help to maintain the biological diversity and ecological integrity of large forest tracts.

The Indian Elephant has played an important role in Indian legend as prominence in religion and religious festivals.

In Hindi, the Elephant is the living reincarnation of the god, Ganesha; god of beginnings. Elephants are therefore worshiped and honored, where they symbolize prosperity and fertility in many of the religious divisions and are, therefore, often displayed in paintings and portraits within people’s homes, playing a very important role in Indian cultural and spiritual status..

Where to see them

  1. Jim Corbett National Park, Uttarakhand.
  2. Kaziranga wildlife sanctuary, Assam.
  3. Bandhavgarh National park, Madhya Pradesh.
  4. Kanha national park, Madhya Pradesh.
  5. Sundarbans national park, West Bengal.
  6. Periyar wildlife sanctuary, Kerala.

Tour Operators

Wildlife SOS

Kipling Camp Kanha National Park

Responsible Travel

Please note: If you do plan to ride an elephant despite the debate over the ethics of it, we implore you to read responsible tourism tips for elephant trekking on tiger safaris.

Conservation Status: Endangered

Big 5 of India Habitat loss and conflict with humans: the needs of an increasing human population and economic development have resulted in significant loss and fragmentation of elephant habitat. Furthermore, Anthropocene pressures have also contributed to extreme degradation of large parts of the elephant habitat.

Consequently, human-elephant conflicts are becoming increasingly common leading to death and injury of human beings and retaliatory killings of elephants. At present, this is amongst the biggest threats to the survival of Asian elephants in the wild. As the forest cover becomes fragmented and degraded, elephants raid plantations and crop fields in their quest for food or in the course of moving between forest patches.

A single elephant can devastate a small farmer’s crop holding in one feeding raid, thereby bringing them in direct conflict with farmers living in and around elephant habitats.

Poaching:

Even where suitable habitat exists, poaching remains a threat to elephants. Since only males have tusks, poaching has resulted in highly skewed male-female sex ratio in many areas.

Poaching for meat and other products like tail hair also pose threats to populations, especially in northeast India. Despite the Convention on International Trade in Endangered species banning trade of ivory, domestic and underground markets still contribute to illegal poaching and trade worldwide.

Besides this, other challenges included the management of human- elephant conflict and accidental loss of life due to human intervention and encroaching development entering natural habitats of the elephants.

Summary: Big 5 of India

Ready to purchase your tickets to India yet? Post Corona travel will allow for a greater appreciation of the incredible wildlife that exists globally, but the Big 5 of India are formidable and beautiful animals that cannot be found together anywhere else in the world.

India night sky at safari

To be encountered with environmental consciousness and responsible engagement but to be admired and appreciated never the less. Fall in love with all that India has to offer you.

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